In less than a year, you can book a 5 night Disney World hotel stay and flights to Orlando for almost nothing!
Note: Some offers mentioned in this post are no longer available. Click here for an updated list of current credit card offers.
Update 2019: The strategy for Disney has changed. Some of the hotel methods outlined in this post are no longer possible. I’ll be posting new ways to book Disney hotels soon.
I’ve written about Disney World on points before, but I wanted to provide more details since it’s one of the most requested topics. I want to show everyone how easy it is to get to and stay in Disney World for almost nothing, even if you currently have 0 miles or points.
I’m going to go into great detail about your options so that you can make your own plan to take your family to Disney World! Because there is so much information, I’m dividing this information into a few different posts. This will be an introduction and overview.
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: How to get a free hotel stay in Disney World
- Part 3: How to get free flights to Orlando
I will assume that you are starting from zero miles and points (in any program), but obviously if you already have some of the points and miles needed to accomplish this, you’re starting out in good shape! I will use a family of 4 for this example (2 parents and 2 children).
Disney Dolphin and Disney Swan Hotels
Disney Dolphin is a Sheraton hotel and Disney Swan is a Westin hotel. Although owned and operated by Starwood rather than Disney, the Swan and Dolphin resorts are considered official Disney “deluxe” properties. As a guest of the Swan or Dolphin, you will enjoy most of the same benefits as guests at the other Disney resorts including early access to dining reservations and Fastpass+. I’ll go into more detail about benefits of staying at the Dolphin or Swan in part 2.
I love the location of these properties. The Swan and Dolphin hotels are located in Epcot. You can walk to Epcot or you can take the boat. You can also take the boat to Hollywood studios. The Boardwalk is also within walking distance. These properties also offer bus service to and from all Disney parks.
These are the only hotels in the Walt Disney collection of resorts that you can book with loyalty points from a hotel program (SPG).
How to earn free flights to Orlando and a 6 night hotel stay in Disney World
A few things before we get started:
- Yes, this is perfectly legal. Although, as everyone new to miles and points gets after their first successful redemption, you’ll probably feel like you just robbed a bank!
- You and your partner will both need to open credit cards. The welcome bonuses from these credit cards are enough for a 5 night stay at the Disney Dolphin and flights for 4 people to Orlando.
- This can be accomplished with as little as 4 total credit card applications. Both parents will need to open 2 credit cards. If you want a longer stay or if you have more than two children, this can still be accomplished. It just may require more credit cards.
When you open a credit card, there is usually a minimum spending requirement to receive a welcome bonus offer. For example, to earn the Amex Starwood bonus you have to spend $3,000 on the credit card within the first 3 months of opening the card to receive the bonus points.
Need ideas for meeting minimum spending requirements? Click here.
The reason I put a timeline of a year on this is because I realize opening 4 cards at one time requires a large amount of spending in 3 months to get the bonuses. Do what you’re comfortable with. If you are only comfortable with 1 at a time, that’s okay! Meet the minimum spend, earn the bonus, and then apply for your next card.
1 card every 3 months between your spouse and yourself still earns the points needed within a year. But if you’re able to open more than one card at a time, you will earn the points and miles more quickly.
If you’re new here, please read the getting started page.
This may not be right for you if:
- Your credit score is less than 700
- You cannot be responsible with a credit card and pay off your balance in full every month. Staying organized is also essential!
- You’re planning on taking out a large loan such as a mortgage or car loan in the near future (most people recommend not applying for credit cards if you’re within a year of taking out a large loan.)
For everyone else, keep reading to learn how to get to and stay in Disney World for almost nothing.
Please please please plan around Chase’s 5/24 policy
Note that the credit cards and points and miles suggested in this post are specifically for Disney World. If your only travel goal is Disney, this plan is great! But if you’re wanting to collect miles and points for other trips, it is important to come up with a plan and timeline for your credit card applications. Please familiarize yourself with Chase’s 5/24 policy.
In a nutshell, Chase limits the amount of cards one can open in a 24 month period. Chase also happens to be the issuer of many of the credit cards mentioned on this blog. So it is important to make sure you plan your credit card applications around this rule.
For example, if you’re at 4/24 (meaning you have opened 4 credit cards in 24 months) and you’re interested in a Chase Sapphire card and an Amex-issued card, you would want to apply for the Chase-issued card first. Getting the Amex-issued card first would put you at 5/24 and then you would have to wait to apply for a Chase card. Amex is not as strict as Chase, so you should be able to get those cards after getting a Chase card. Again, I thoroughly explained this in my post about 5/24 but if you have any questions or need clarification please feel free to email me.
Airport shuttle is NOT included
One benefit that you do not get at the Dolphin or Swan but you get if staying at other Disney properties such as the Grand Floridian or the Contemporary Resort is the Magic Express. The Magic Express is a shuttle that runs between the Orlando Airport and Disney hotels for guests at all official Disney Resorts EXCEPT the Dolphin and Swan hotels. Cue sad trombone. BUT, I am actually okay with that because I’ve heard that there can be long waits to take the Magic Express. Your other options are to rent a car or use a private car service.
I highly suggest a car service because once in Disney, you likely will not need a car and you’ll end up paying parking fees. We booked a service to bring us to our hotel from the airport and then back to the airport at the end of our trip. The cost was less than $200 total and that includes carseats and a stop at a grocery store on the way to pick up some snacks. That means we did not have to worry about bringing carseats at all! The driver met us at baggage claim in Orlando, loaded our luggage into a black Suburban, and brought us to a grocery store and then our hotel. It was easy and there was no waiting time.
If you have other plans in Orlando such as Universal, you may need to rent a car.
Award space availability for hotel and flights
In order for this to work, there must be availabilty at the Disney Swan or Dolphin for the dates you want. Fortunately, I’ve had great luck with booking these and both times have been within 6 months of travel AND during the holidays. I’ve found award night availability at these Disney properties much easier than some other SPG properties across the world.
Usually an award stay at both of these properties is free to cancel as long as you cancel within the specified time period on their cancellation policy. Be sure to check that at the time of booking, but I know our most recent trip was fully refundable (meaning I would get all of my points back without being charged any sort of fee) as long as I cancelled at least a week before arrival. Because of their generous cancelation policy, I suggest booking the hotel as soon as you have the points if you find availability on your desired dates. You can always change the dates or cancel if you need to.
With flights, the availability is going to be highly dependent on your home airport and the airlines that serve it. In part 3, I give tips to narrow down which airline miles/credit card points you should focus on. If you’re booking well enough in advance and you have a little flexibility on dates, you should be able to get flights one way or another.
How can you get a Disney park ticket on points?
Unless you’re using a cash back card of some sort, you can’t really get Disney World tickets on reward points/miles. I generally do not recommend cash back cards, but if your only travel goal is Disney, it could work for you.
Disney World tickets alone are expensive, so adding hotel and airfare makes it even more of a hit on your wallet. 5 day hopper passes for 2 adults and 2 children are ~$1800 total. So add hotel and airfare and you’re looking at spending over $4,000 for a family trip to Disney World. Miles and points can help offset the expense of a Disney World vacation by covering hotels and plane tickets.
Tip: When you book your park tickets, if you book with an online travel agency such as undercovertourist.com, the purchase codes as travel. So if you’re using a card that earns bonus points on travel purchases you get extra points per dollar on your Disney tickets! Disney does not code as travel, so buying tickets through Disney World only earns 1 point per dollar. I earned 3 points per dollar on our tickets because I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card to purchase them at undercovertourist.com.
Which credit cards do I need to open for a Disney World trip?
I’ll go into more details about earning your free flights and hotel stay in Disney World in parts 2 and 3, but here is a quick overview.
The credit cards you will need to open for a Disney World trip are:
A Chase Marriott Rewards credit card for yourself and/or your partner. This will get you your free hotel stay in Disney.
- A Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card for yourself and/or your partner
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
2. An airline co-branded credit card for yourself and/or your partner
3. A combination of the above
Some cards even waive the annual fee for the first year!
The Chase Marriott Rewards credit card is key to a free hotel stay in Disney World
The current welcome bonus is enough for 5 nights at the Dolphin or 5 nights at the Swan if you and your partner open one.
The other cards you will need to open depend on the best airlines for your flights to Orlando and how many tickets you need to book.
For your flights to Orlando, there are several credit card options
Flights are a little more complicated, but in a good way. It’s because there are so many options and the best option for you will depend on your home airport and which airline can get you to Orlando efficiently for the least amount of points and miles.
I’ll help you determine which credit card can get your free flights in part 3.
Even if you’ve never earned miles or points, you can book flights to Orlando and a Disney World hotel for next to nothing in less than a year. All it takes is a combined total of 4 credit card applications!
Conservatively, a 5 night stay at the Disney Dolphin or Swan would cost $1250-1500 ($250-300 per night after taxes) and 4 flights would cost ~$1000 ($250 per person). But remember that prices could be significantly higher during peak dates.
For a family of 4, that’s at least $2,000 in savings.